Having a love of family that defined his character, world-renowned expert Dr. Colin J. Williams made a point of always being home for dinner. Despite the constant demands and pressure of his career, Colin would wrap up meetings at the end of the day saying the work could wait until tomorrow, in order to be home for dinner with his beloved family.
Michael Soligo, President and CEO of Canadian consulting engineering firm, Guelph-based Rowan Williams, Davies and Irwin Inc. (RWDI), said the most noteworthy aspect of Colin’s character was his “Kind, caring, and ever positive attitude” adding that “Colin knew how to balance his work and family life very well.”
Dr. Colin J. Williams was born in England on January 13, 1948, second born son of Ron and Barbara. Colin was actively involved in Scouts and exploring the great outdoors during his childhood in England with his brother Brian. Both sons were inspired by their father who was an Engineer working at a printing company. Engineering in the early days was very hands-on work, and Colin grew up watching his father rolling up his sleeves to fix anything that was broken.
In Colin’s adulthood, this can-do attitude was that if something was broken, you fix it, which was a way of thinking likely inspired by his father. Michael Soligo recalls going to see Colin at his house a few years ago, and he was roofing his house. When Michael said, “I didn’t know you knew how to roof a house.” Colin responded with, “I don’t, but I am learning as I go.”
Colin completed his undergraduate degree in the UK, and was set on continuing his education in the Engineering field. Job prospects in England weren’t fantastic at that time for Engineering, so he set his sights internationally. He saw a brochure on the University of Windsor, Ontario and from that point on, Colin was determined to come to Windsor. He was given a full scholarship to continue his education at the University of Windsor.
It was at this University, that a fateful meeting in the cafeteria one day brought Colin to meet the love of his life, Kathy. Little did he know that this meeting would lead to a wonderful 44 year marriage and the gifts of four children, Megan, Caitlin, Bronwyn and Mike. Kathy was raised on a farm and the courtship was a tough sell to her hard-working parents, who weren’t convinced of his profession at the time, being a full-time scholar. Nevertheless, love prevailed and Kathy worked to support the both of them while Colin achieved his Masters and PhD in Engineering.
Once Colin began working in his career, Kathy stayed home to care for their children. Growing up, Colin’s son, Mike Williams recalls asking his father why his mother did not work outside of the home. Mike said that his father would share, “That’s the only way I was able to get where I am in my career, because your mother supported me while in school and early in my career.”
“It was not lost on him that my mother supported him to get his foundation” says son Mike. “He wanted us to know the sacrifice that she made early on in their marriage.”
Colin became a founding partner of RWDI and was hire number three in the firm as the first engineer hired by RWDI’s predecessor firm in 1974, which brought him to Guelph. Colin started out as a young engineer and had a very successful career as a wind and snow engineer. Colin was a pioneer in the fields of ice and snow accumulations, wind effects on buildings, and issues affecting pedestrian comfort.
Colin became an international expert in this field, travelling all around the world for his work. He worked closely with architects, engineers, developers and planners throughout the world to help create better performing buildings and pedestrian environments. Throughout his 40 year career at the firm, he played a key leadership role in the growth and technical development of RWDI. Colin’s work included mitigation, forensics and preventative work.
Michael Soligo reflects, “For the entire 30 years we worked together; Colin was always humble, quietly confident and soft-spoken. He was respectful of others at all times.”
One of Colin’s passions was mentoring people and he had an uncanny ability to do so. “If you wanted to learn, Colin would take the time to teach people” says Michael Soligo. Colin received great satisfaction in seeing people become successful.
Colin decided to semi-retire 10 years ago, and he continued to work part-time at RWDI, while making time to travel with Kathy, sail, play guitar and complete do-it-yourself (DIY) projects around his home.
A diagnosis with cancer followed a year of health troubles. During this time Colin was actively engaged in trying to determine the next best step in the course of treatment. Always thinking of others, Colin shared his experience with others, offering advice to people going through illness and providing ideas on how to handle a similar situation if it happened to them.
Son Mike reflected, “I have no regrets. We spent such valuable time together over the years, building a cabin, traveling and spending so much time together. We were fortunate to have him in our lives for so long.”
Colin passed away at age 66 at his home in Elora, Ontario on September 17, 2014 with his wife and four children at his side.